Tuesday 6 April 2010

Folklore Notes and report back on Great British Garden Bird Watch

Our January Great British Garden Bird Watch was a huge success with over half a million people participating in the survey, eight and half million birds being reported, with 73 different species being spotted.

This winter with its particularly cold weather, which is still ongoing – though I understand it is relatively normal to have snow in Scotland, Wales and Ireland at this time of year – has been very bad for the tiny birds, who have no body weight and thus few reserves – so the wren, coal and blue tit are having a tough time, and we are being encouraged to feed them.

Greater Spotted Woodpecker

In the past 30 years there has been a dramatic decline in house sparrows and starlings, while species normally found in the fields have come into the villages and towns – the yellowhammer, redwing, bullfinches and fieldfare.

The report back can be seen here in the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds website, while this year’s top five (all pictured in my previous post – clever me!) are:

1) House Sparrow - maintained top spot for 7 years, but have declined by over 15%
2) Black Bird (see below for their song .. lovely – give it a listen .. only a few seconds of pure natural bliss)
3) Starling - dropped to 3rd place after being in top two for 10 years
4) Blue Tit
5) Chaffinch

Blackbird Song, Garden Birds too - YouTube video:

Now that we are terribly slowly coming into Spring, no doubt it will be magnificent once the warmth gets turned up a little, we can keep our eyes open for a few more turns of nature – the woodpecker (on warm fine days – where are those?) should be out drumming on the large, old trees.

White Horse Chestnut - the conker tree (late April/May flowering)

After selecting a hollow branch or trunk of a dead or dying tree – they set to: 40 blows every second! You might think that they would get a headache – the equivalent to you and me of repeatedly hitting our head against a wall at 26 km per hour (16 mph).

Evolutionarily they have adapted to this method of attracting a mate, and maintaining their territory: their skulls are thick!, their brains are very tightly packed inside to reduce the effects of shaking; while they also have spongy tissue around their beak which acts like a car’s shock absorbers. Their eyes too close just before the beak hits the tree, to avoid being damaged by flying bits of bark.

Quite honestly this year .. some of the lore seems to be a bit haywire .. the saying goes that:

“If March comes in like a lion,
it goes out like a lamb .....
If it comes in like a lamb,
It goes out like a lion.”

March was just icy, snowy, cold and very arctic windy .. the lambs were struggling & I’m absolutely certain the lion would have been hunkered down somewhere!

Cornus florida berries encased in ice (Flowering Dogwood, USA)

While in February I totally agree as it’s now April!

“That as the days lengthen,
So the cold strengthens.”

Why I’m whingeing when I live on the south coast of England, I have no idea .. but if it’s cold here – then it must be utterly miserable further north and further abroad as in Mongolia, as the news tells us. (Since I wrote this - it is definitely warming up: I'm pleased to say!

However Spring only arrives when you can put a foot on 12 daisies .. and I do not think I can do that yet – there is an odd daisy or two .. but not a little patch. Daisies apparently are among the first flowers to respond to the warming sun and the rising sap, but many Springs do not really start until April or May – this year is one of those I suspect. I remember about 8 years ago sitting outside in 30 deg C having a roast lunch on Mother’s Day (March 30th that year) .. so we English have our own personal weather lore!

Once the daisies do appear then we just have that wonderful juxtaposition of vibrant, verdant greens, bushy growth, blossoms and candles, also red, orange or yellow stemmed with greening buds of the dogwoods.

We need to protect this new life so it is here for future generations and all to share and wonder at, as we do now. We need the hedges, for which this country is (was) renowned, with their complete holistic habitats, the field margins, the scrubby woodland pockets at field edges, the dirty puddles – these breeding grounds for wild plants, for wildlife – insects, flowers, weeds too, hidey holes for beetles, insects, invertebrates – more stocks of food (seeds, leaves, nectar), pollinators .....

... after this year .. we really need to do our little at home and round about – protect this life ahead, so we can all see the horse chestnut candles, the bumbling bees, our smallest birds, and our own food growing in a wonderful cross-hatch of field colours containing all the plants in a rainbow –

R – for a field of red poppies
O – oranges of ripened corn, wheat and barley fluttering in the balmy breeze
Y – sunny yellow daffodils at the start of Spring
G – verdant greens of new shoots
B – sky blue of the linseed fields, above which the lark sings
I – Indigo – to remind us of our Greek and Roman connections, who had coined the word from India and its use of the first ‘royal purple’ indigo dyes, millennia ago
V – Violet – violets in the verges, amongst the woodland floor peeping out

Bless this world with all its vibrancy and all it offers – let us do our part and encourage our families, relations and friends to do their part – now at the start of another year and Spring, or as we wind down to Autumn to remember cleanliness is not all – let’s do less garden spring cleaning next year! – encouraging all life: from lichens, fungus, snails, slugs, bugs and beetles et al .. so we do see the colours of the rainbow, and we can eat the rainbow foods, to keep us in this rainbow land.

Dear Mr Postman – things are looking up a little – my mother suddenly was quite bright and cheerful – which was lovely to see. She then went back to sleep! However she’d looked at the flowers her great friend had sent her .. well I had instructions .. tulips, daffodils, and some red dogwood sprigs (left): Mum commented on the white tulips making the difference – bringing the other flowers to life .. there were pink and purply ones too; then there are some hyacinths I found – and the blue ones have come out – giving a really lovely scent, the pink ones aren’t far behind – so that’s a success from Elizabeth. Mum also commented on the new ‘posters’ and said they amused her .. so that’s good – a successful day.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Tess said...

Well you have me all fired up for spring. The woodpecker and forty times per second of head hitting? What a way to get a mate! I love daisies. Grew up on a farm and we picked acres of strawberries. One thing I noticed being in nature so much was when the wilde daisies were blooming I knew at the same time the strawberries were ripening. I'm so glad your mom enjoyed the posters and flowers. Loved the comment on the white one. Never looked at it that way before!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Tess .. it is great when the weather warms a little - went out without a coat today for the first time for ages!

Old Mr Woodpecker is pretty amazing - as you say way to go to get a mate! We used to make daisy chains, and a grass reed, which we wove into braids ..

I'm sure our daisies here come way before strawberries - except they managed to get some out for Mother's Day (mid-March) .. from poly tunnels in Kent .. but the natural fruit straight from the fields is so delicious - Mum used to grow some for us at home ..

She was sound asleep when I went back this pm - but it was nice to have her cheerful and talking happily again ... even if only briefly!

Thanks for the visit - glad it reminded you of home and your strawberry farm .. and flowers too I think?

Here's to Spring .. have a great week - Hilary

Betsy Wuebker said...

Hi Hilary - We're having unseasonably warm weather here in Minnesota - it is the earliest spring I can remember in the 26 years I've lived here. We recently received the Hawk Ridge (Duluth, MN) newsletter where they outlined the raptor and passerine migration counts, which were down as well from previous years. However, their counts rely upon those who are caught in the ground nets as well from the trained spotters, and older birds are more savvy in avoiding the trap. I wonder, though.

Pete and I try to make our urban garden hospitable and we've had everything: common sparrow, chickadee, nuthatch, red-winged blackbird, finches, Baltimore Oriole, robin, starling, grackle, cardinal, cowbird, indigo bunting, crow, mourning dove, hairy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, and sharpshinned hawk stop by. I saw a bald eagle recently using an avenue to the west of us as a flyway. I think as more and more people value the ecosystem, we will see population increases.

I would love to come to England and do some birding. Thanks for your peek at Springtime.

Mark said...

This is a wonderful time of the year which is full of possibilities and re-birth. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and all the knowledge that you gather.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Betsy .. gosh .. shows us how the world is upsy down .. you & Davina in Vancouver have had warm weather .. whereas here I reckon it has been colder than normal – or what I remember .. back to the days of the 60s.

Interesting to hear about your counts .. I think we use nets sometimes .. this was a public (children and family) watch and count in our gardens mainly.

You're both obviously great birdwatchers .. telling me about birds I don’t know about .. I love the name Oriole, the indigo bunting, a hairy woodpecker and sharpshinned hawk .. how wonderfully descriptive. Lovely seeing the eagle fly by .. it’s good that you’ve made your garden nature friendly.

Perhaps one day you can get over .. it would be great to see you here – Spring is lovely. All the best for the week and Spring ahead - Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mark .. good to see you - isn't it a wonderful time .. and every day is so different, with more growth and the birds being so busy and noisy singing away.

Have a lovely week ahead - all the best Hilary

Terro said...

Everyone is so re-invorgorated by spring! I love this happiness that's so universal. In a way, it gives purpose to winter. I'm glad it has brought smiles to your Mom and hope she continues to get better.

I enjoyed learning more about the woodpecker. I'll think of him next time I feel like banging my head against a wall...and let him have the task. It will save headaches for sure!

Keep on bringing us all joyful smiles!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Terro .. good to see you and thank you for the joyful smiles - yes Spring does seem to make us step out in a lighter way.

That's a good idea isn't it .. save us the headaches - I must remember that!!

Go well - and as long as Mum is comfortable and at peace .. what more can I ask really?

All the best and enjoy your Spring Hilary

Anonymous said...

I love spring time. Growing up in Michigan I appreciate the seasonal changes. I don't see much of this in Southern California, although we do have the swallows that show up on the same day every March.

Stephen Tremp

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Stephen .. yes Southern CA is probably not too seasonal as such .. but you get the wild flowers and those stretches of flowers before they're cut down! Amazing those swallows turning up the same day in March - are they really .. perhaps the change isn't affecting them on your side of the pond and continent?

Spring is wonderful .. slightly damp here now .. but perhaps tomorrow will be sunny and slightly warmer - summer comes! Thanks for the visit .. Hilary

Davina said...

Hilary, I too am revved up for Spring after reading this post -- lovely pictures and use of adjectives :-) Every day now I watch the tree outside my apartment... patiently waiting for the leaves to fully develop. Right now there is very early growth, but it looks promising. And yes... bird watching! I could SO do that.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Davina .. thank you .. isn't it wonderful the greening up of our landscape - we'll be so surprised at how quickly it all bursts forth - the weather now is giving a quick boost ..so I think our Spring is well on its way. Wouldn't being able to sit in the garden and watch the birds, listen to their song be so wonderful - peaceful and with nature .. bliss .. Enjoy the bursting buds of Spring - Hilary

Liara Covert said...

The diversity and number of birds observed is incredible. Springtime brings out the watchers in droves. Love what they teach us.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. thanks good to see you here. I'm amazed at the patience birdwatchers have .. we used to do it in South Africa - there it's relatively easy .. because it's warm! But even then little brown jobs (LBJs) defeated me!!

Birds are amazing their mapping and ability to travel the world, yet come back to the same spot.

Our seagulls are out and about, as are the pigeons .. there are a few others, but being so close to the sea .. means the seagulls, pigeons, magpies! and crows rule the roosts ..

Have a good week - Hilary

Vered said...

Today was warm and spring-like. I love Northern California. I have heard so many people say they don't like living in California becuase they like having four seasons, but I can't imagine living any where else.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Vered .. thanks so much, good to see you. Fortunately it's warmer here - but only 60s! I'm always amazed how quickly the temperatures can vary in the States .. I remember being in NYC in the 70s .. at this time of year it went from freezing freezing and then into the 80s with very high humidity.

Glad you enjoy CA with its warmer climate .. seasons are glorious, unless the winter (cold and grey) drags on too long!

Thanks - have a good California Spring-Summer - Hilary

Barbara Swafford said...

Hi Hilary,

Seeing the birds and the flowers does remind me of Spring which has had difficultly coming to us. We've had days of 60 degrees only to have others with snow and a crisp wind coming off of the mountains.

Your pictures of the daisies remind me of when I was a little girl, picking the wild ones out of the pastures of my grandparents farm. Oh what fun we had. And to this day, whenever I see a daisy those wonderful memories surface.

It's good to here your mom is doing good. (((hugs))) to both of you.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Barbara .. the weather in the States seems 'strange' .. some have had early Springs, Spring suddenly arriving - yet I hear of snow and cold crisp winds from others and you!

Mind you it hit 60 degrees here and summer's arrived!!?? It was just over 64 yesterday in London - today will be warmer I think .. but here on the coast it's cooler because of the wind & then it's due to go down to 57 deg!

Daisy chains are great .. just messing about on or in the grass .. watching the insects fly or meander busily around .. just being little!

Thanks re the hugs for Mum .. she is brighter - so that's comforting .. go well - Hilary

Paul Maurice Martin said...

I heard a report on the BBC a couple years ago. Don't recall the stats, only that a major factor in the decline of bird species is the house cat.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Paul .. thanks for coming by - good to see you. You could well be right - we have masses of cats around here .. mostly they're fed - but they do like the odd chase. There are plenty of rats and mice too ..

Let's hope the birds have a bumper breeding year and we'll do some catch up ..

Have a peaceful weekend .. all the best Hilary

Paul C said...

Interesting that England is behind a bit as is the eastern North American regions. I was just watching the Master's golf tournament and their azaleas and rhododendrens are not quite in bloom as they usually are this time of year. Also your bird sightings spark a reference to the fever in southern Ontario, Canada where I live close to Point Pelee National Park. Thousands converge each year for the bird migration. You provide a wonderful chronicle of events.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Paul ..I think Spring is catching up! Yes - the Masters usually has a wonderful display of the Azaleas and Rhododendrons - I'm hoping I can get my mother to watch a little .. she used to love it.

Birds are amazing at how far they travel .. and how the hone in to their 'home' .. we have twitchers here, who dash everywhere ..

Thanks for the chronicle of events .. a little of this and a little of that .. enjoy the coming of Spring in southern Ontario - with its Park.

Lovely time of year .. all the best and enjoy the weekend - Hilary

Short Poems said...

It is so beautiful in your place Hilary :)

Marinela x

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Marinela .. many thanks for coming over - good to meet you and glad you enjoy "my place" -

I've popped over to your short poem space - wonderful that you've been writing for so long .. clever!

Go well - have a good weekend - Hilary

Patricia said...

I think our birds are suffering this years spring is not doing it's part very well. I just drove across the state this weekend and I usually see the falcons and hawks out as the farmer's plow, but only saw 2 this trip. Lots of snow still in the passes, which made the trip even longer. We do have some nesting hummingbirds across the street and a few finches are blessing our trees. I hear more bird song in the morning.

I so enjoyed learning all the folk lore and bird tales - thank you
Good news about you mum

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. certainly our birds are singing happily now that the weather has got warmer. Your drive sounds interesting .. being able to see the expanse of landscape with its falcons and hawks .. but this year only two ... unless they’ve gone further south and haven’t returned yet – or east .. because I gather the States’ weather in some places is warmer?

Gosh I’d love to see hummingbirds nesting .. and finches, stubby little things, are always such fun to watch bobbing about .. blessings as you say.

So pleased you enjoyed the small amount of folk lore and bird report back .. thanks for being here .. yes it’s good to see my mother better, and not ill ... have a good week - Hilar

Mandy Allen said...

Hi Hilary, having been an avid bird watcher and member of the RSPB for some years I am always interested in the results of the garden bird surveys. This year I have noticed a decline in small birds in my garden, and also differences in the species of birds visiting.

Enjoy the journey.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mandy .. good to see you again. Thanks for these updates and letting us know about the decline in your East Anglia area of small birds, while different species are visiting. This RSPB and BBC site seems to bring bird life and nature into the schools around the country - which can only raise the outdoors a little.

Hope you're getting over your travels and settling back in again - all the best - Hilary